Pakistan harvested a record wheat crop of about 22 million tonnes, last year, which far exceed its domestic requirements.
This enabled it to dispense with the import of wheat altogether.On the contrary, it has an appreciable exportable surplus.
Now, Pakistan has to formulate a comprehensive wheat export policy so that the surplus wheat is channelled in the export outlets profitability.
Unfortunately, this has not yet been done.However, efforts are afoot to export wheat to the needy nations and some qualities have already been exported to Afghanistan, Iraq and some other countries.
A public sector corporation viz Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) has been given the responsibility to do the job. TCP’s modus operandi in this regard is not clear.
Sometimes it exports direct to some countries and at other times through inviting the private traders/exporters to enter into contract with it for some specified volumes to be exported abroad.
Consequently, with such lopsided efforts, we have not been able to achieve much success to export wheat in greater volumes and huge quantities are still lying unsold with the risk of deterioration on account of inadequate and unscientific poor storage capacity.
Now, our wheat is more than a year old, and is greatly vulnerable to loss of qualities and decrease in its selling prices.
Under such challenging situation, we have to gird up our loins tightly to make the post-harvest treatment of wheat as scientific as possible.
In order to increase the storage life of wheat, the foremost priority is to be given to store it in godowns or silos scientifically constructed having proper light and temperature arrangements.
Presently, in Pakistan, proper storage facilities (both in public and private sectors) are far below the requirements. These faulty arrangements in the public sector are available mainly for wheat, rice and cotton.
In 1992-93 the National Logistics Cell (NLC) constructed silos of varying capacities at Khairpur, Karachi, Chichawatni, Faisalabad and Quetta.
Sometimes back the International Monetary Fund (IMF), also assisted Pakistan in the construction of 540,000 tonnes storage facility for wheat and rice.
Apart from this, temporary storage is also made available during the peak harvesting seasons. But such ad hoc efforts can hardly cope with a situation of stable surplus wheat production.
Because of lack of proper silos, as per recent press reports, a large volume of wheat has been rendered non-edible causing considerable loss of revenue to the national exchequer.As in the present condition, when movement of wheat in the export outlets is pretty slow, we greatly need its storage in a proper and scientific way to safeguard it from deterioration.
Some losses have also reportedly occurred due to the quality of freshly harvested wheat not being up-to the mark. As such not only the post-harvest but harvest practices should also be improved.
A commodity already in bad condition, when kept even in the scientifically constructed storage equipped with temperature control device, is more vulnerable to further damage. Thus, there is a dire need to supplement our efforts in this regard with the adoption of improved scientific practices in respect of harvesting, thrashing, winnowing etc.
This may cause quality uplift of the wheat harvested. When kept in storage even for a long time, it may be least vulnerable to loss of quality.
Among post-harvest activities, another prerequisite for facilitating expert of wheat is its grading before export in a scientific manner duly approved by ISO.
In this way we shall be able to ensure our prospective foreign buyers better quality of our wheat successfully. Thus, we shall also meet the competition in the foreign market, particularly from the long established export giants like USA, Canada, Australia and France.
While taking the necessary measures to embark on a wheat export programme for accelerating its pace of movement in the export outlets, we must also keep the momentum of wheat production achievable after a long time and with great efforts.
In the past except during 1964-65 when we harvested a bumper crop of wheat, our production had been persistingly far below our domestic requirements. Even in the recent past from 1996-97 to 1998-99 wheat production did not exceed 18,694,000 tonnes (1997-98).
It only attained an enviable level of about 22,000 tonnes in 2000-2001, affording a formidable exportable surplus for the disposal of which in a profitable manner, we are struggling hard in the foreign market. However, a modest beginning has already been made in this regard as stated above.
In reaching the situation of surplus wheat production, to find out how much time was taken, it shall not be out of place to have a retrospective view of the situation.
Before independence only one district Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) falling in that part of the sub-continent which now forms Pakistan was called “the granary of wheat,” feeding most of the wheat deficient provinces of India.
Due to the hostile attitude of India, this activity came to a stand-still with the result that wheat production in the above stated district received a great setback so much so that Pakistan itself also felt the brunt of the situation and started to import sizeable quantities of wheat from abroad to overcome the shortage.
According to FAO Production Year Book 1988, in the global wheat production of 509952 (‘000’ metric tonnes, Pakistan’s share was as insignificant as 1597 (000 metric tonnes) accounting for only 0.31 percent.
Against this, Pakistan’s share in the world import of 98,865 (thousand metric tonnes) was 378 (thousand metric tonnes) or 4.24 percent. Obviously, Pakistan could not figure anywhere in the world wheat export scenario of 100476 (thousand metric tonnes).
With the above adverse situation of wheat production looming large for more than half-a-century, Pakistan after all has now emerged successful from an importing to exporting country. Now to maintain this position Pakistan should not be oblivious of what it has to do.
In order to meet the challenge of maintaining the momentum of wheat production and disposing of its surplus profitably in the international market, it seems essential to set up a high-level institution at the national level to which specific responsibilities in this regard should be entrusted.
The establishment of a National Wheat Board on the pattern of the Canadian Wheat Board may be an ideal choice.
Along with the above steps, ‘Eat-more-Wheat’, like ‘grow-more-wheat’ campaign may also be launched to increase the domestic consumption of wheat minimising the pressure on other cereals as well as on other edible items. This campaign may be successful by introducing novel and attractive items of wheat products.